Healthcare professionals often discuss heart attack and stroke in relation to one another. This is because the two conditions share a large number of risk factors, including coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. This leads to reduced blood flow, which is a danger for both the heart and the brain.
“The good news about this link is that proper preventive measures can reduce a person’s chances of developing both heart attack and stroke – and that’s great news!” said Robin Jones, stroke coordinator for Mission Health.
Identifying and Managing Risks
When it comes to heart and brain health, there are some risk factors you can control, and some you can’t. Those that you have no power over are gender, race, age and genetic predisposition.
For example, men tend to have more heart attacks than women. They have more strokes, too – although women are more likely to die from a stroke than men are. We also know that African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Pacific Islanders have higher rates of CAD, which means increased incidences of heart attack and stroke. And, of course, heart attack and stroke risk increase with age and are more common in people with a family history of the events.
There are, however, many risk factors that are tied to a person’s lifestyle. These include:
- Consuming a high-fat, high-sodium diet
- Being overweight or obese
- Avoiding exercise
Not properly managing other conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
To address preventable risk factors, lifestyle adjustments are necessary, these include quitting smoking, losing weight, improving diet, increasing activity, and getting the proper medications and therapies for your existing health conditions.
When it comes to specific dietary and exercise changes, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional for recommendations. In general, however, experts have found that low-sodium diets that are low in saturated fats and processed sugars and high in fiber, nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids tend to be ideal. And when it comes to exercise, any reasonable activity performed on a regular basis – such as walking or water aerobics – can help.
“When it comes to preventing heart attack and stroke, a lot of things are under your control,” said Jones. “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain, too. So you should feel proud that every positive change you make doubles the impact.”
Robin Jones, MSN, RN, CNRN, is the Stroke Coordinator for Mission Health.